Sidewalks are built for the sole purpose of giving pedestrians a safe place to travel, out of the way of nearby motorists. However, many of these walkways can pose their own threat: falls.
At Associates and Bruce L. Scheiner, Attorneys for the Injured, or fall injury attorneys know many unexpected hazards are present on sidewalks, and those responsible for maintenance must take reasonable care to address such dangers.
Some of the conditions that lead to sidewalk falls include:
- Cracked pavement;
- Uneven pavement;
- Slippery materials, such as excessive mud, gravel, loose sand or mossy vegetation;
- Debris, such as tree limbs, children’s toys, trashcans, etc.;
- Tree roots pushing through the surface.
Any one of these conditions could cause serious injury, including broken wrists, twisted ankles, fractured hips, head trauma and neck and back injuries.Who Maintains the Sidewalk?
Florida businesses, as well as local and state government agencies, are the entities most often responsible for sidewalk maintenance. Condo or homeowner associations might also be responsible in gated communities.
In about half of all Florida cities, as the Sun-Sentinel reported, homeowners are either wholly or partially responsible for maintenance of sidewalks in front of their property. In those cases, liability action may be brought against both the city and the homeowner’s insurance.
There are some stretches of sidewalk for which the state is responsible. In a 2008 legal advisory opinion issued by the Florida Attorney General’s Office, jurisdiction for sidewalk maintenance remains with whatever jurisdiction existed as of mid-1995, absent a legal transfer of jurisdiction reached by mutual agreement.
The 2005 case of Del Rio v. City of Hialeah, held before Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal, established that even if a city does have jurisdiction over maintenance of the sidewalk, when abutting private property owners contribute to or cause a dangerous condition that results in injury, they may also be held liable.
In some cases, there is dispute about who “owns” the sidewalk, and which entity owes the duty to maintain it. Sometimes even those involved aren’t 100 percent sure. This is where an experienced injury lawyer in Fort Myers can help. A thorough investigation at the outset of the case will be key to success in the courtroom.Injuries Resulting From Sidewalk Falls
Many people who suffer sidewalk falls don’t seek immediate medical treatment. They may assume it was their own clumsiness or that it’s just “one of those things.”
However, injuries like this have a tendency to worsen over time. And even if the injured person shared some degree of fault, it does not mean the entity responsible for maintaining the sidewalk should evade liability entirely. It is true one’s overall total recovery may be reduced if the injured party shares some blame (called “comparative fault”), but that doesn’t mean the property owner won’t have to pay.
This is especially true when you consider the seriousness of the injuries one can incur as a result of a sidewalk fall. Those include:
- Traumatic brain injuries;
- Broken facial bones, including nose and jaw;
- Fractured wrists, elbows and shoulders;
- Broken collarbone;
- Neck and spinal cord injuries;
- Skull fractures.
Litigation helps injured parties pay medical expenses, lost wages from inability to return to work, and other costs associated with the fall.
Cities and property owners are usually put on notice when a sidewalk condition poses a threat, and if nothing is done, those prior complaints can be used to assert negligence.
Lawsuits against government entities can be complicated by a number of factors, including sovereign immunity. This is the legal doctrine stating governments are immune from lawsuits for most personal injury claims, unless that claim is waived. Many jurisdictions do waive sovereign immunity for sidewalk injury claims, though it sometimes depends on the exact nature of the claim.
A common defense in these cases is to claim the danger was “open and obvious” to the injured person, who therefore should have taken action to protect himself and avoid the danger. To overcome this defense, experienced premises liability attorneys need to show the hazard was somehow concealed from the injured person or that he or she was foreseeably distracted.
Courts have held, for example, that simply looking up at a door (as opposed to one’s feet) is not a foreseeable distraction. However, a customer who trips on a crack in the sidewalk while carrying large merchandise from a box store into a parking lot can be considered foreseeably distracted because business owners should anticipate customers will be carrying big items to and from the store.
If you or a loved one has been a victim of a sidewalk fall in Southwest Florida, contact Associates and Bruce L. Scheiner, Attorneys for the Injured, for a free and confidential consultation to discuss your rights. There are no fees or costs unless we win. Offices in Fort Myers, Cape Coral, Naples and Port Charlotte.